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The Times GAINESVILLE: Pick a station, any station: Is brand-name gasoline better than generic?

By ASHLEY COX

A small light appears on the dashboard of your car. You look down. The gas tank is on empty and it’s time to fill up. Again.

With gas prices reaching record highs this summer, many people will scour their neighborhoods for the lowest prices.

Some opt for discount gas, while others stay true to brand names.

“Generally it’s price over brand,” Clermont resident James Armstrong said of his choice of gasoline as he filled up Tuesday afternoon at the Kroger station on Thompson Bridge Road.

Armstrong owns a lawn care business called Anything Grows. He spends about $150 to $200 per week keeping his various vehicles running.

“It’s killing me,” he said, “(but) you’ve got to have it.”

The Kroger station offers a variety of additives that customers can choose to put in their gasoline while they fill up, but Armstrong doesn’t pay attention to them.

The question of brand-name vs. discount faces motorists every time they fill up. But experts disagree whether cheaper fuel is worse for your car’s engine.

While AAA Auto Club South hasn’t performed any scientific tests, many brand names claim their additives are the best for car engines, said Gregg Laskoski, the company’s managing director of public and government relations.

“We believe just from what we’ve heard from members and from our own experience that even if you’re getting the same grade of gasoline, sometimes you get a slightly different performance in your vehicle,” he said.

Gasoline distributors fill up their tanker trucks at the same terminal, but brand names say the quality of their gas is higher due to additives they put in the gas to help car engines stay clean.

These engine-cleaning substances are added in tiny amounts to ordinary bulk gasoline at fuel terminals. The type and strength of additives are the main differences among gasoline brands.

Over time, the unwanted material inside a vehicle’s engine can cause it to run poorly, use more fuel and pollute more.

Corey Langworthy, a spokesperson for Shell Oil Products U.S., said in an e-mail to The Times that ultimately the issue boils down to fuel quality and the level of cleaning agents found within the fuel.

“Based on market data, we believe the gasoline provided by many Hypermarket and Grocery Store brands is formulated at or near the lowest level of detergency required by the EPA,” Langworthy said. “Such gasoline may allow carbon deposit build-up that can prevent optimal engine efficiency.”

While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires a certain level of engine-cleaning additives in gasoline, big name brands say the minimum standards won’t keep a car’s engine clean.

Chuck McDonald, a mechanic at The Autoworks on Spout Springs Road, said while Shell has the best 97 octane, he hasn’t noticed any real difference between brands in keeping his engine clean.

In the cars he works on daily, “I haven’t seen very much (engine) failure because of gasoline,” he said, adding that discount gas is not more harmful to the engine.

Some auto makers — such as BMW, Toyota, Volkswagen and Audi — are touting stations that provide “top-tier” gasoline, fuels containing strong concentrations of detergent additives to help keep engines “gunk” free.

The top tier standard was set because certain manufacturers felt that the minimum governmental standards were not enough to actually keep critical engine parts, such as intake valves and fuel injectors, clean of carbon deposits, Langworthy said.

Some of the stations with this type of gas include Chevron, Conoco, Quik Trip, Shell and Texaco.

McDonald said that additives are sometimes helpful to a vehicle. One type of additive, for example, helps clean carbon off valves, but it would only help an engine with a lot of miles on it, not a new one, he said.

While McDonald said some of the advertisements for different additives are “just sales ploys,” he seems to be stuck on Shell brand gasoline.

“I can tell right of the bat, as soon as I pull out of the parking lot, the gas wasn’t as good as the Shell,” McDonald said. “You can tell when something gives it a little boost and when something doesn’t.”

AAA advises consumers to use regular unleaded gasoline, 87 octane, unless the car’s owners’ manual specifies that they need to use a higher octane.

If you do buy discount gas, experts recommend buying a detergent additive and pouring it into your tank every few thousand miles. They also suggest filling up occasionally with brand names for the cleaning additives.

Even though the question of what type of gas to use may be puzzling, at least consumers can breathe a little easier at the pump.

Gas prices have been steadily declining for the past several weeks, and that trend likely will continue.

“That’s good news,” Laskoski said. “We’re frankly a little surprised.”

Last week, the national average for a gallon of unleaded gasoline was $2.99. Now it’s $2.90.

In Georgia, the same amount went for $2.93 a week ago and is $2.84 currently.

The sloping prices are a response to greater inventories. The Department of Energy this week reported an inventory of nearly 800,000 barrels.

Refineries have reported output at 91.7 percent.

“That is the highest we’ve seen all year,” Laskoski said.

Last week several refineries in Texas and the Midwest came back online, thus boosting U.S. refinery production, and pushing output to its strongest level since September 2006, Laskoski said.

“All of that is welcome news,” he said.

Contact: [email protected], (770) 718-3426

Originally published Wednesday, August 1, 2007

http://www.gainesvilletimes.com/news/stories/20070801/localnews/187863.shtml

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